by Seth Garben
…Well, I was there when the spinning game was invented. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say, I was there when the spinning game came into being. For to imply that any one person at that fateful dinner party authored it, or even to assert that it was a “group effort”, would be misleading, would border even on the hubristic. The spinning game, so called colloquially and after the fact (we referred to it only obliquely), emerged spontaneously, each of us—that is, the guests—contributing only minor details or slight adjustments to what presented itself to us at every stage of its own self-development. Is it possible, then, some may wonder, that the game could have just as easily been discovered by (though I prefer the term made itself known to) another group of unwitting persons other than ourselves? I’ll concede that, yes, theoretically, it is possible; but, historically, it is at best inaccurate, and at worst a flagrant attempt at pernicious revisionism.
On that point, I’m sure that there are others, perhaps even you all, who will take issue with and seek to contest my claim, arguing instead that they were actually part of the discovery of the now popular, and notorious, game; or that, though they themselves weren’t present, they know someone who was, have no reason to doubt this person’s credibility, one who is so often at the vanguard of similar social movements, and that it was ages before when my account allegedly takes place. I pay these contradictions no heed, remain as confident as ever in all my assertions regarding the spinning game, and have no time nor interest to compromise with pretenders. At the same time, I urge my detractors to formalize their contradictory histories in a written or oral testimony, as I have been hard at work doing, and allow posterity to judge the worthier.
I’ll do my best to recreate the events surrounding the inception of the spinning game, though I have little doubt that the account that follows will be accurate: That evening made such an impression on my mind, it would only be with the greatest of efforts that I would be able to purge it from my memory. You may mistake my objection to refer to the parties involved by name as evidence of my but tenuous recall of the events I’m about to relate; but that is not the case, I assure you. I do so out of respect, not for these parties personally, but rather for custom and convention generally, which, I think we can all agree, transcends individual animosities. So please bear with me…
We had reached what had, by all accounts, struck us as the end of one of the lesser unpleasant evenings we had all experienced together, and were preparing to make our decorous exits, when our host returned from the other room with a surprise.
“Now, as I was saying: I’ve just finished watching a fascinating program on dervishes. Of the whirling kind. It’s these fanatics, who go round and round and round on one foot, whipping themselves into an absolutely rapturous frenzy that seems practically ecstatic. And they say that it’s absolutely free, doesn’t cost a thing. Do you believe it? Silly me, I’ve been paying top dollar for supplements when I could have been achieving the same end this way. Except for the fact that I preemptively reject anything that even smacks of doctrinal, religious voodoo. You see, these Sikhs, for that is who they are, they do it to purify themselves before prayer, and I’m totally against that. But I think we should try it.”
Of course, at first, we all thought she was joking.
“No, I’m not joking, really. I think it would be fun.”
“Well,” started in one of the guests—a man of enterprise who, I can tell you, took no pleasure in anything unless there was a distinct percentage to be made (or lost) in it, ”We’re not just going to dance around like kids, are we? If we’re going to do this, let’s put some money on the line.”
This piqued the curiosities of both those guests who were seriously, if secretly, considering playing the game, and even those who were interested in theory only, but possessed no real convictions to seeing it through. Our host, who bore for this man a great respect which she felt it necessary to temper in public lest she demean herself, modestly agreed. Some kind of competitiveness would have to be introduced for the game to make the leap from plain silliness, to significant. “But, money at a dinner party?” our host countered, in what could only have been her attempt to check her interlocutor’s ascent to celebrity at her expense. “How unpardonably gauche and petty.” No, it was unthinkable. It would have to be some other kind of prize.
Another guest—one whose fanatical devotion to the aesthetics of the bodily form was her defining quality, and who, while we showed signs of that pre-middle age degradation, stood out for her almost artificial compactness—ignoring the matter at hand (as was her wont) irrupted with a relevant but hasty suggestion: The game would be a competition of endurance. That is, of who can spin around the longest. It was an expected contribution, considering the guest’s background; and though some wanted to dismiss her suggestion as unfairly self-interested (for who could possibly compete with such an incomparable athlete?), it was eventually, however grudgingly, assented to, quite possibly for no other reason than no one had come up with a superior alternative. So, we agreed apprehensively, it would be a game of endurance.
Though once that obstacle was surmounted, others soon followed, in the form of complicating questions.
These questions fell into one or both of two categories: philosophical, diversionary, and even farcical on the one hand, and earnest, meaningful, and pertinent on the other. Among the questions posed that fell squarely in the former category were, What constitutes a spin? What distinguishes a spin from a turn? And In which direction ought we to spin? These kinds of questions were jettisoned almost immediately as lacking substance and application. Questions that fell into the latter category, and therefore meriting serious consideration, included, Would the players spin all at the same time? Or would they have a go singly? How would a winner be determined? And, Once a winner was determined, what would he or she win?
We pondered over these questions, and summarily arrived at a serviceable understanding of the game’s mode and manner; namely, that in the interest of time, we would all spin simultaneously, until attrition had reduced the ranks to a single, erect body, supported by nothing but its two legs, and that this body would be deemed the winner, in a “last man standing” fashion.
Having arrived, by whatever pains, at this consensus, and the spinning game having revealed some, though not all, of its mysterious self to us, there was a distinct frisson of jubilation released into the room, possible neither to deny nor deflect, and we were all caught up in that consuming bliss.
But fugitive was this reverie, for we were again confronted with the reality of our own ignorance, which we had nearly all but forgotten: Whereas we were rich in the how, we were still impoverished as to the why and what for of the game. The prospect of money being barred to us at the outset, we had to rummage violently through our imaginations to find an alternative as enticing. A weekend at so-and-so’s summer home, box seat tickets at this-or-that venue for such-and-such event, and such like offers in kind all came to grief on complications and disagreements of exchange: Is this really worth that? Do I get to choose the weekend? What if I don’t like what’s playing? For invariably the prize in question failed to entice everyone to consensus.
That is, all but one.
One cocksure guest swaggered to the middle of the room, and tossed up what he must have thought was the intellectual equivalent of the sorcerer’s stone: “What if the winner gets to host the next dinner party, huh?” The attempt went over like a lead balloon. Why? Because any idiot would be able to tell you (well, not any idiot, apparently) that none of us—except our current host—had really wanted to host the next dinner party. We hardly wanted to attend them, much less be in charge of them. Such an offer had about as much appeal as a doctor asking a perfectly healthy patient which terminal illness he would like to be diagnosed with. Of course, no one could put words to these feelings. It would be social suicide.
To a more perspicacious eye it would have been clear that our current host took just the slightest umbrage at the hint implied by the suggestion delivered by such an impish figure, but before she betrayed it to the group in an unambiguous way, she checked herself, to study how this comment was received by her guests. She was assuaged when she saw us bristle at the idea, interpreted it as a tacit approbation of her unique approach to dinner parties, and was pleased. Though her interpretation was far from accurate.
Finally, a guest who had up to that point been recessed in the back of the group, reticent, not so much out of withdrawal or apathy, as prudence and circumspection, finally spoke up:
“What if instead the winner had the honor of choosing who was to host the next dinner party?”
Note the almost imperceptible addition, the subtlest of qualifications, the minutest of verbal sleight-of-hand feints.
To our host’s chagrin, this latter suggestion was received positively, and had the serendipitous effect of unifying the group around a single objective. Whatever plans our host had had to dissent were there and then dashed, for she would not risk being the only one to take a minority position. Instead, she opted for the opposite tack, and tried to pass off the suggestion as her own.
“Yes, I was thinking of handing the mantle to someone else — whoever you are, by the way, I wish you good luck, and this would relieve me of the duty of having to do that arbitrarily. So thank you.”
If it comes as a surprise to anyone as to how these stakes had provided the motivation sufficient to have launched us into the madness that followed, just consider the great double prerogative one is afforded to both guiltlessly avoid the tedious responsibility of accounting for others’ pleasures and enjoyments, while at the same time bestowing someone else with the burden of this obligation under the guise of charity. It was indeed an irresistible inducement.
We all agreed to these terms unanimously, and got underway with preparations for the game. We had to move the furniture to the perimeter of the room, in what would prove to be a futile effort to avoid any collateral injury (to ourselves, or the furnishings for that matter). It wasn’t long after these and similar precautions were taken, that we all started spinning. Just like that.
We spun round and round. Like tornadoes in teacups. Like vertiginous points in space.
We spun so much we got ourselves dizzy and disoriented. I could feel my dinner flying around like a blade on a windmill. We spun until we all ended up on the floor, giggling, out of breath, lightheaded.
Our host was the first to try to get up, and she said, “Well then: who’s the winner?” But no one was quite sure. “I didn’t see a thing!” “I was so caught up in spinning, I forgot to take a look around.” “Who was the last one up?” “I believe I was, but I can’t be sure.” “Can someone verify his claim?” “For the life of me, I can’t say whether I saw him or not.”
It became clear that there would need to be someone, some disinterested party, some outsider, who could judge the game from some Omega point. The problem then became who that disinterested judge would be. And there was not a little controversy.
“Because it means that whoever is judging has to sit out a round.” “So?” “That means that they’re disqualified from that round.” “So they’ll play the next round.” “And then what? That means, to give everyone a fair shot at winning, we’ve got to play… one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten rounds, and each time a different person is judging.” “That’s a lot of spinning.” “That’s a lot of spinning, exactly!”
“Oh,” said our host, “don’t be spoilsports! It’s fun! I’ll sit out this first round, and then we’ll just go down the line. First I’ll get a pad and pencil so we can keep score accurately.”
Our host absented herself, and then re-presented herself, this time with pad and pen in hand, almost in the same instant, giving us hardly a moment to take stock of what had just happened, and to consider whether or not we wanted to repeat it… ten more times.
“Alright,” said our host, waving the pad and pen around, “everyone back to your positions!”
We obliged, and, once there, prepared ourselves physically, mentally, but definitely not spiritually, for the first round.
Watching all those guests spin, like pirouetting perpetual motion machines, was exhilarating, and exhausting. Inside the host welled up an ecstasy she had not felt in a long time, an ecstasy beyond good or bad, an ecstasy that nearly knocked her off her feet. She was watching electrons revolve in their subatomic ether. She was the voyeur, the pornographer of the microcosm. Spin, she wanted to say, spin spin spin! But her mouth could utter no words — she was beyond words.
I can only imagine.
Then, like bodies in space hurtling out of their own orbits, we began dropping off one by one, falling to the floor. Eventually only one was left standing. That was the winner.
Our host wrote down the round and the winner. But when it came time for her to pass off the pad and pen to the next Judge, she could not.
“I want to do it again.”
“But you can’t, darling,” said the guest who was destined to take her place as the next Judge. “We’ve got to go in order, darling, that’s what we agreed on. Besides, I need a break.”
“Oh, God, I must watch it again, I must!”
The next Judge had to practically rip the pad and pen from our host’s hands, she was so set on judging the next round, and, if she had had her way, every round after that. “But it wouldn’t be fair, darling: it was your idea. You can’t just watch.”
Finally our host relented, and the spinning game reasserted its ineluctability.
The game continued.
Bodies spun and dropped.
Winners were called and written down.
Dizziness and disorientation ruled the day.
In between rounds, when we weren’t bobbing back and forth like buoys at sea, we stammered and stumbled around the room like babies learning to walk. If before we grinned like idiots, now we smiled like lobotomy post-ops, for nine whole rounds had come and gone, and we were none the more present-of-mind for it. Intoxicated on her own motive force, our host wrested the pad from the last round’s Judge and performed some quick arithmetic. “Well! Would you look at that! Looks like we have a, a t—a t—…” “A what?” “A… T-I-E!” “A tie?” It was the first time the judge informed the group of the running score, and it returned the game from silly, where it had unintentionally drifted, back to significant, where it was intended to remain. The news was sobering.
“The two on top are you—“ she pointed, “and you,” she pointed. “Even if someone else manages to win the next round, they still wouldn’t win. No, it’s down to you two.”
In hindsight, it’s no wonder that these two were locked in a dead heat. So long as they had been part of our social circle, and therefore known to us, they had pursued mirror image lives of each other, the one following in the other’s footsteps, then overtaking the other, then falling behind again. They were bound, somehow, someday, to find themselves party to a tête-à-tête, a duel.
“If that’s the case,” these two said, almost simultaneously, ”then you all should clear the floor, and let us spin alone. It’ll be easier that way.”
“Oh, nonsense!” said our host. “That gives you an unfair advantage—the rest of us had to spin next to you! Besides, it’s too much fun to pass up.”
“But really—” “No, no, no! I won’t allow it. It’s my house, and we’re all going to play. Except for the Final Judge, of course. They have to sit out. Who hasn’t judged yet?”
“M-me,” said one guest, visibly sick from spinning. Of all those at the dinner party, this one was the most pathetic. He was cloyingly agreeable, and, by all measures, opinionless. His invitations were always out of pity, and his company was always abided with disdain and boredom. His presence was easily overlooked, which is probably how it came to pass that he hadn’t judged yet.
“You?” said our host with that aforementioned disdain and boredom, and even a little dismay thrown in for good measure.
“Y-yes. I haven’t j-j-judged yet.” He looked like he was about to vomit.
“Fine,” our host said, handing the Final Judge the pad and pen. “Here. Take this. You’re the Final Judge, you understand? That’s not for nothing, now.”
“Right. Yes. I understand.”
So he said, but when he took the objects in his hand, they looked to him so foreign, as if they had lost all meaning. What’s more is he could barely hold them, for his hands were like a pair of lifeless gloves.
“Now sit down there, and keep an eye out. You can do that, can’t you?”
That the Final Judge nodded could not be denied. But what was impossible to ascertain was whether that nod signified an understanding of the duties of his office, or the malfunctioning of his inner mechanism. Either way, it was taken for granted that the man both knew and was capable of what he was about to do. Our host pulled out a chair for him, and sat him down in it.
“Now come on!” cried one of the Finalists—I’m not sure which, though it could have been either. “We’re losing momentum!”
“Now, don’t go and make me regret this,” said our host to the Final Judge.
The guests, minus one, assumed their positions, and the Final Judge managed to squeak out a, “S—Spin…” and the spinning commenced.
Most of the guests treated it as yet another round to experience that wild abandon generated by limbs flying every which way, the stomach undulating, thrilling. But the two Finalists took things much more seriously. As their inconsequential competitors began dropping off one by one, they remained focused, straining every muscle, catching the other’s eye at every opportunity available to them. They spun as if they would never stop.
Meanwhile, the Final Judge sunk deeper and deeper into a daze. If he could have put words to his thoughts, he would have realized that judging a game such as this was just as disorienting as actually playing it, if not more so. But that mental capacity had been neutered, submerged underneath layers of fog and dust. Round and round and round, he watched the bodies go, where they would stop, nobody did know… He felt like his eyeballs were spinning inside his head. He was going to be sick, that much his body was able to communicate to his mind, and somehow the mind answered the call, and sent a direct, if feeble, one back to his body: Get up.
And so it did.
Though the Final Judge did not get far. He was able to take a few steps towards what he remembered to be the bathroom, then collapsed on the floor, and began retching. Nobody took any notice. We had become so accustomed to the sound of solid matter falling to the ground we just took this last one to be yet another player losing, or taking a dive, or whatever.
The two tied players continued to spin and spin, until, as if it had been fated, they both dropped at seemingly the exact same time. Bang. Down.
The game was over.
“That’s it!” cried our host.
“Well, who…who won?” asked one of the Finalists.
“Yes! Was it her, or was it me?” “Where’s the Final Judge? Where’s the Final Judge! He’ll know!”
The guests all looked at the chair, but didn’t see him there. Then they peered around the chair, and saw his body (fuzzy and nondescript, by their attenuated powers of perception) sprawled out on the floor. “Has he been there the whole time?” “No, I put him in the chair myself!” “How’d he get there?” “I don’t know, I was playing the game.” “Is he drunk?” “No, can’t be, he doesn’t drink.” Someone went over to the Final Judge, and saw that his head was haloed by his own vomit. “He’s gotten sick.” “Sick?! On my carpet?” “Yes.” “Let me see! Someone help me up.”
Someone helped our host to her feet, and she stumbled over to the Final Judge. Then came complete clamor, all the voices in the room blending in to one, many-tongued, Babelic, sibylline, indistinguishable, cacophonous orgy of sound:
“Thank you, thank you, but it’s not enough,” said our host. “This is everywhere. Please get him off the floor, and into the chair.”
With regained composure, a few of the guests managed to pick up the Final Judge and prop him up on his erstwhile throne, while our host got down on all fours and scrubbed the carpet.
Meanwhile, the Finalists agreed that really the only way to settle this difference was through a rematch. They squared off in the living room, and commenced spinning. But the game took a nasty turn, and the Finalists abandoned all considerations of conduct and demeanor. As they spun round and round, they every now and again let fly an errant fist or open palm or pointy foot at their opponent, like human weathervanes, and every now and then those assaults would connect. The game had become a contact sport, and soon the Finalists were on the floor, pummeling each other.
“Should we call the ambulance?”
“We need to call the cleaners!”
“He hasn’t moved in some time.”
“What are we going to tell them? We don’t even know how it happened.” “Wake up! Wake up!”
“But what if he dies?”
“Even more reason to get our facts straight. Otherwise, what’s to make them think that we didn’t have something to do with it?”
“That’s a very good point. Before we take any further action, we must have a clear understanding of precedence.”
“Would you two please knock it off! We’re trying to get to the bottom of this!” “I can’t think. I can’t think.”
“Let’s start slow.”
“No. Let’s start from the beginning.”
“Oh gosh, will this stain ever come out?”
“It’s not so bad, you can hardly see it.”
“Who remembers how this all started?”
“Well… It started as a game.”
I do not care, at this time, to go into the rest of the details. Suffice it to say that we were finally able to rehabilitate the Final Judge, that the true winner of the spinning game that night was never determined, and that, after all our group had been through, that tragedy (or near tragedy) provided the pretense needed for us all to part ways with more or less clear consciences. Of course, I am not on unfriendly terms with any of them, though it would be a lie to say I am either interested in or up-to-date on their personal lives. And it also goes without saying that we have never, not since that night, convened for another dinner party.
With that, I conclude my story (I hope that it did not upset you unduly), and thank you again for inviting me; this is a far superior gathering, I can already tell. And, though I am new here, and though I don’t know what it is you have planned in the way of after-dinner activities, I should think I would be remiss were I not to admonish against the playing of the spinning game, for reasons which I have already at length mentioned. ◊
Seth Garben is a writer, poet, playwright, director, and the Fiction Editor of Protean Magazine.